Shifting the Institutional Mindset toward CompetencyAric Krause | Dean for Academic and Administrative Affairs, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford
The following interview is with Aric Krause, vice provost and dean of The Graduate School at University of Maryland University College. At the recent 2013 UPCEA Mid-Atlantic Conference, Krause gave a keynote presentation on the massive changes that follow a transition to a competency-based model. In this interview, Krause expands on those ideas and shares his thoughts on the process and cultural transformations that colleges and universities need to make to if they are to succeed with a competency-based model.
1. Why does moving to a competency-based education approach require an institution to rethink its model?
If you think about how we measured our success, … how we allocate budgets — number of credit hours, number of programs, number of students — then the learning becomes the primary focus of the degree and not the number of credit hours. Then certain ways of accounting, certain ways of measuring, certain ways of documenting student performance have to change accordingly.
2. Regardless of whether an institution is looking to adopt a competency-based model, what are some of the problems with the organizational model most institutions follow?
The whole purpose of competency-based models is to graduate students who can do things; students who have mastered specific abilities. Since the focus of the program is different, institutions face problems making the transformation. For example, as I mentioned, when credit hours are the model, that’s how faculty members’ productivity is calculated. Moving to competencies, the productivity of the faculty member is instead [measured by] the learning demonstrated by their students. Certain things then start to fall apart and it becomes more difficult to articulate what it is that’s happening in that institution.
Universities have to start to be pretty specifically focused on trying to rethink how they’ve been accounting, how they’ve been allocating and pricing their product, where they’re going, how they’re going to expand, how they’re going to keep track.
Since that credit hour was so conveniently set out, … it’s become the de facto measure of the university. Well, it’s learning under the competency-based model. If learning’s going to become the outcomes, if learning what’s really important, then things start to change. Even things like financial aid.
So it’s problematic for the institution to change its core measure.
3. Returning specifically to the question of competency-based learning, what are the most significant changes an institution must make to its model to successfully deliver CBL?
I would suggest that what the institution really needs to change is its culture; where a student can learn, when a student learns, how a student learns takes on a lot more flexibility when you adopt a competency-based model. So, if we say that the student to graduate needs to be able to do “x” — maybe critical thinking or writing or communication, or some major specific thing — then that becomes the focus. How the student learns or develops that skill or ability, is unimportant. Where it comes from is unimportant.
Rethinking all of those different aspects of what we do in order to get the student to the final objective, which is to be a master of a particular set of skills or abilities, [causes] things to change quite a bit.
Institutions have to start thinking about that culture of how they measure themselves, where they put their resources and focus it on what the student actually leaves with, as opposed to the credit hours generated. The institution needs to start those discussions if it wants to be competency-based, if it wants to graduate students [for whom] the whole measure of when they’re done and how they’ve done is whether or not they can demonstrate their competency.
Even things like faculty contracts or faculty tenure or faculty evaluation is strongly geared towards the number of credit hours and not necessarily on how the students perform when they finish that course.
It’s a very basic discussion of how are we going to account ourselves and how are we going to measure our success and what our rituals are in terms of how we evaluate ourselves. That’s the place to start because until you have agreements on what those things look like, a competency-based program undertaking will fail if those agreements aren’t changed.
4. Is there anything you’d like to add about this transformation to competency-based learning and what is required, not only for institutions but from all the faculty and administrators within the institutions to make that transformation successful?
It’s so important that universities go for competency-based learning. It’s so important that we start paying a lot more attention to what students can do when they finish their education, as opposed to how many hours they’ve sat in a chair or how many credit hours they’ve accumulated. It’s so important that we do that, even though it’s difficult, even though it’s hard, even though it requires much rethinking, it should be done. It should be undertaken, even though it’s incredibly difficult to do.
The value and strength of each student going through a competency-based program is so compelling that even though it’s a lot of work, we should do it and even though it requires us to really, really rethink so many different things, we should do it for the benefit of the learner.
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- Introducing competency-based learning requires institutional leaders to undergo a cultural shift
- Before any change to an institution’s processes can take place, leaders must redefine their purpose, goals and understanding of education
Author Perspective: Administrator